Weeping welcomed here

A few posts back I mentioned that I would be sharing some of my ideas for conifer groupings in my future garden. One of the primary features of any plant grouping is the “focal point.” This concept applies to large garden vistas, smaller viewing spaces and all the way down to container gardens. You have probably heard someone use the phrase, “thriller, filler and spiller” when talking about container garden design, and the same basic concept applies to the full-sized garden. Each of the plant groupings that I will share will incorporate this basic design concept in one way or another.

Picea omorika ‘Gotelli Weeping’ – This specimen “thriller” is a brilliant focal point in the garden.

One of my favorite larger “thriller” plants is a beautiful form of the Serbian Spruce. This cultivar was admired many years ago growing in the National Arboretum with the name, Picea omorika ‘Pendula’ and was propagated and sold for many years with that name. In 1979 a respected conifer enthusiast and grower gave it a distinct cultivar name because it appeared to have unique characteristics and it was believed to be important to keep clones of this distinct tree separate from the assorted other pendulous forms that had been marketed under the name ‘Pendula’. Unfortunately, it has taken many years for that name change to take place throughout the world of conifers (including conifer growers) so this magnificent cultivar may still be found in US garden centers under the name P.o. ‘Pendula’.

‘Gotelli Weeping’ is a large tree pushing out a foot or two of new leader growth per year, depending on its cultural conditions. The young graft I had in my past garden pushed 15 to 18 inches of terminal growth the last two years in my care. At the time of this writing, the specimen pictured here is over 22 feet tall. It was 12 feet tall when it was planted in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden in 2008.

I will plant ‘Gotelli Weeping’ as a specimen focal point and then add dwarf conifers, Japanese Maples and other ornamental plants to fill in space and add color and texture. “Spillers” in this case may be a combination of ground covering conifers, perennial plants and annual flowers. I my case, I expect that my future garden will be confined to a smaller suburban space, so I will want to plan carefully where I place any larger trees. When planting my ‘Gotelli Weeping’ I will want to provide ample space for it to grow large and to be viewed from all angles.

Next time I will discuss some of the “filler” plants that are high on my list to plant near this fine specimen.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

The garden of my dreams – in my dreams

I have been thinking about plant combinations. Now that I have the clean slate of my imagination without the constraints of an actual garden space, I have been enjoying creating the garden of my dreams – in my dreams. With all my years growing conifers of all types, sizes, shapes, colors and textures, I am drawing upon that experience in an attempt to design small garden vignettes which I will be able to utilize in my new garden – wherever it may be.

Pulling from my mind’s database of somewhat commonly available garden conifers (and other exciting garden plants) and utilizing the vast amount of information available through the internet, my goal is to create versatile combinations of plants that will work together well in an assortment of planting space sizes and shapes. The emphasis of my designs will be pleasing combinations of characteristics and growth rates, so that the plants will complement and flow together whether in a longer, linear bed or a wider, rounder space. Of course once I decide on the most important plants that I want to ensure I include in these garden vignettes, I can explore the many possibilities for filler plants, ground covers and even <gasp> flowering perennials, trees and shrubs.

 

‘Confucius’ is a beacon of bright, beautiful, year-round color in the garden.

I like to design with bold colors so that my gardens are filled with interest and excitement all year long. Dwarf and miniature conifers are available in a vast assortment of vibrant yellows, golds and blues with shades of green from very dark to very bright and some even exhibit a variegated combination of color. Along with the wide range of color choices are also variations in texture that affect the garden nearly as much as strong color statements. Compact, small-needled plants with many small branches held tightly can provide a dense, fine texture. Plants with longer, wispy needles covering long branches obviously give on open, airy feel to the garden.

There are literally thousands of conifer cultivars which supply my garden design dreams and imagination with all kinds of excitement. My goal is to begin by limiting myself to readily available cultivars. Once I actually have a new place to grow a garden, I can become more serious about tracking down some of the more rare conifers that have limited availability, and those that may only be available through other conifer enthusiasts and collectors.

One tree I believe will be a very wise choice to include in my future garden is Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Confucius’. I may have described this premium, golden yellow Hinoki Cypress in the past, but it is well worth mentioning again today. As an intermediate grower ‘Confucius’ puts out an average of 6 to 10 inches of new terminal growth per year. Lush, bright yellow foliage covers irregular branches and darkens to golden hues as it matures. Interior foliage, with less sun exposure, is lighter yellow green graduating to darker green the farther into the interior of the tree one looks. The gardener may choose to allow its irregular branching to dominate or, with a little pruning, a more symmetrical habit can be encouraged. In time, ‘Confucius’ will become a very prominent specimen and should be placed where its bright color will draw attention to, and complement other garden plants.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Enter the Cobra

Sometimes I crack myself up. Seriously. Sometimes my first impression of a new plant is so poor that I roll my eyes and wonder why anyone would propagate the darned thing, let alone in large enough numbers to market it across the continent. What makes me laugh at myself, is that more often than not, those plants that I initially had such a strong negative reaction to, later become among my favorite of all plants. Several years ago I mentioned Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ as being a plant just like this. My initial response was not one of jubilation, but as I wrote in that blog post, ‘Acrocona’ has become one of my all-time favorite conifers!

Enter the Cobra.

This Picea abies ‘Cobra’ began its life as an odd looking, long single stick covered in green needles. Today it is full of lush foliage, and because of its culture, makes a unique focal point and an excellent ground cover.

The first time I cast my eyes upon this plant, Picea abies ‘Cobra’, it was a fairly young graft. It appeared to be essentially a fat stick covered with dark green needles and a few brownish-tan buds—absent of any side branches at all. It had been trained to grow up a bamboo stake to a height of almost five feet (in just 3 or 4 years). I simply could not imagine the appeal of such an oddity. I am definitely a fan of many unusual looking conifers, but this one, trained straight up the stake, without any side branches, just seemed to be past my point of appreciation.

A few years later I happened upon this very same conifer, in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden and it had been transformed. Once its terminal growth reached the top of its supporting stake, it curved and then headed right down to the ground. I also noticed that those few lateral buds I had seen on my initial observation had sprouted new, vigorous lateral branches, which followed the example of the terminal, and swept outward and down, weeping to the ground. Many other new buds had formed and the plant had begun to fill out in a most spectacular way.

Today, some 15 years later, the plant has filled out with loads of sweeping, weeping branches, flopping and flowing to the ground where they lay prostrate and layer themselves into a most excellent ground cover. Overall the effect is quite stunning and this particular conifer has become one of my very favorite of the Weeping Norway spruce cultivars available today from independent garden centers around the world.

If your initial encounter with ‘Cobra’ reminds you of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, go ahead and take it home to your garden, in just a few years I think it will become one of your all-time favorites too!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Dreaming of spring

In my corner of the Pacific Northwest, we have enjoyed some of the most pleasing spring-like weather for several days in a row – which seems terribly unfair since I know many of my friends are in a wintry deep-freeze right now. Today I thought I would share some beautiful spring-time garden photos hopefully easing the winter blues some of you may be struggling with and to inspire all of us to get out into our gardens as soon as weather permits. In my case, the weather forecasters see an end to our pleasant, sunny days and a return to our cold, gray rain – which suits me just fine, it is only February after all. Who knows, we may even see snow showers mixed with our rain in the local area throughout the month of March keeping us in winter dormancy a little longer!

This Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’ is an early one to leaf out and is among the first to announce that spring is here! I expect to see this a site like this by early April.

Even before their new growth in the spring, the dwarf conifers in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden are vibrant and full of life. You can see leaves just beginning to emerge on the tall Laceleaf Japanese Maples in the background.

By late April or early May, the garden is really coming to life! Conifers are showing new growth, maples have leafed out, flowers are full of color – the spring air smells so goooood!

Lush new growth on the spring-time conifers is so fresh and colorful – The Jean Iseli Memorial Garden is inspirational!

By early June, all the plants in the garden are lush, and just being in their presence evokes feelings of peace and happiness.

Ahhhh… spring-time, with all its warmth and new life – it really is something to look forward to this time of year!

Hang on folks – especially my friends in the current deep freeze which is covering so much of the North American continent – spring really is coming!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Leaving the past, pondering the future

An amazing single specimen, I’d like to plant several Picea glauca ‘Pendula’ in a mixed plant hedgerow.

Ordinarily this time of year, when the cold east wind blows or the cold gray rains fall in a steady flow from the sky, I find myself in my favorite chair near the woodstove, enjoying my garden from the view of the large picture window. This year, I have been busily moving to a new temporary home which has also forced me to spend some time with my containers, carefully transporting them to a new location. As I am moving and loading and unloading these many coniferous friends, I find myself thinking about what has been, and more importantly, what is to come. I have been making a mental list of what dwarf conifers I currently have to begin my new garden, and I am making a list of those conifers I will definitely want to replace one day when I have a place to begin to dig in the soil again.

Over the years I have had an opportunity to select a number of very unique dwarf and miniature conifer seedlings which are coming with me. These are real treasures to me since I selected them many years ago and have nurtured them along the way, carefully monitoring their needs and evaluating their unique traits. Other plants in my collection of containers are less rare but still of great value to me. The past several years I was able to increase my conifer collection through the propagation process of winter grafting. My small hobby greenhouse was perfectly suited for the task and I had great success adding to my collection and making new plants to give away to friends.

Taking mental inventory of my containerized conifer collection, I realize that I will have a good beginning when I find a place to create a garden once again. Some of my favorites are conifers that I think everyone should have in their garden. For example, most any garden has space for Picea glauca ‘Pendula’. This very tall growing conifer remains very narrow and even after thirty years or more in the garden, it may attain 30 feet in height, but will have a diameter of only about six feet where it meets the ground. I absolutely love the way it looks like a giant tapered candle with wax dribbling down its sides. I would love to plant three to five of these spaced with about 15 to 20 feet between them in a hedge row. I would then fill in the spaces with other conifers to create a multi-level, multi-colored and textured garden wall.

Very slow growing, Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ is a colorful miniature conifer for small spaces.

On the other end of the scale, Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ is a very slow growing conifer of equal favor. This small, mounding spruce has tiny golden-yellow needles covering its short, stiff, twiggy branches. This one I will want to protect from the intense afternoon summer sun, but for its best color I will want to place it where it will receive many hours of sunlight. I will plan to place this with other miniature conifers in a special location where I can prominently display the appealing features of these small-scale plants.

The spring flush of new grow on Picea pungens ‘Niemetz’ is a real attention grabber!

One last spruce to mention this time is Picea pungens ‘Niemetz’. This one begins somewhat slowly, but once established, it can grow into a full-sized Colorado spruce tree. Its amazing feature is its stunning color. When it begins to push its new growth in spring, the color is bright butter-cream which shines brightly against its older gray-blue foliage. Over the months, as spring transitions into summer, the creamy color fades to a very soft blue and eventually hardens to the light gray-blue of autumn and winter. I will want to place this tree where it can be a showpiece in the spring and summer while keeping in mind that it will probably need to be a background tree due to its ultimate size.

As the perspiration runs down the side of my face, and with memories of a garden gone by, I have exciting times to ponder with the possibility of new gardens yet to grow.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

A new year, a new life – let’s get started!

The cold east wind has returned to my corner of the Pacific Northwest and although it does bring a break from the rain, bright sunshine and deep blue skies, it also brings wind gusts of 25 to 35 miles per hour. Travel a few miles to the south and the wind is but a breeze, a few miles farther and the windless sunshine feels warm through the crisp, cold ambient temperature.

Even during the very crisp and cold days of winter, the conifer garden looks alive!

Today’s walk through my garden is bittersweet. I am bundled and warm enough, but this will be one of my last walks through this garden. Life does not always march in step with the plans we make, and I find myself nearing the end of my stewardship of this little acre. It has been great transforming this once ordinary yard of some older trees and a lot of lawn to mow, into a garden which not only filled hearts with joy in all who strolled the paths, but also became home to an assortment of critters from birds and squirrels to a small lizard with the occasional passing raccoon and opossum (and of course, the neighbor’s cat who enjoyed this sanctuary away from the large dog in his own yard). Fortunately, I know that I will have gardening opportunities in the future and I look forward to sharing those adventures with you all here.

Of course, I will continue to have the pleasure and honor of strolling through the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden and I am confident that I will continue to learn a great deal from my friends at Iseli and apply that knowledge to my own future garden and new conifer collection.

May 2015 become a great new gardening year!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Getting into the holiday mood

This time of year, with the deciduous trees nearly bare from our recent cold wind storm, crisp, cold temperatures and the winter holidays on their way, I can’t help but begin to become excited. In the USA, our Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner, and for me, that means spending time surrounded by some of the people I love. It also means that it is time to begin outdoor winter decorating, which includes displaying little lights on many of my “Christmas tree shaped” conifers. I am not sure how or when Christmas trees were determined to be perfectly conically shaped, or how the tradition of decorating trees and houses with lights came about, but I sure do enjoy it!

‘Banderica’ is a superb choice for the garden – any time of year!

Some folks seem to think that more is better when it comes to decorating their space with lights. Some even go to the extreme with computer controlled lighting that is in sync with music, and some even broadcast the music over a low-power FM signal so drivers may enjoy the show in their cars. I, on the other hand, am perhaps a bit more of a traditionalist and I like a more subtle approach to my lighting technique. Several of my dwarf conifers are just the right size and shape for that traditional look of conically shaped trees strung with lights. You may recall my experience stringing a non-traditionally shaped tree some years ago, if not you can check it out here.

Some of my favorite small trees to decorate with lights this time of year include Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ and ‘Sester Dwarf’. Both of these dwarf forms of Colorado Blue Spruce have very nice blue needles that really shine when I string them with either colored or plain white lights, plus they stand out all year long with their great color.

A few choice pines to decorate include Pinus leucodermis (heldreichii) ‘Banderica’, ‘Irish Bell’ and ‘Compact Gem’. ‘Banderica’ has taken some time to become sizable enough to decorate, but now that it has matured, this very slow grower is a short, chubby tree that complements the other two in this section. ‘Irish Bell’ is a faster grower, but provides the same kind of broadly conical shape in a more open form. ‘Compact Gem’ is very nice with its taller and more narrow stature. I love planting these three in a group that shows off their varying forms and sizes while providing a great effect when they are all lit up for the holidays!

Coney Island’, this nice green mound of fine textured foliage, is as great in the summer garden as it is when covered with tiny lights through the holiday season!

But hey, I am certainly not going to limit myself to the traditional conical shapes when deciding on where to place lights in my garden. I like to cover the larger globe shaped conifers as well and turn them into giant, glowing snowballs! One in my garden is Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’, which lights up brightly and gives off a wonderfully therapeutic scent during the decorating process. Another great rounded conifer to decorate is, Pinus strobus ‘Coney Island’ which comes pre-decorated with an abundance of delightfully dangling small cone ornaments – just add lights. One final plant to list this time is Picea abies ‘Fat Cat’. I just love this one with its nice, tidy, compact, rounded form – it’s perfect for those net lights which can simply be laid over the plant for easy installation and removal.

Okay, my fingers are warmed up from all this typing, I think I had better get into the garage and start going through my boxes of lights. Let the holidays begin!

Ed-
Conifer Lover